Sunday 19 January 2020

Civilians trapped by militants being ‘forced to loot and become sex slaves’

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Reuters
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Reuters

Nicola Smith

Civilians trapped by Isil-affiliated groups in the besieged southern Philippine city of Marawi are being forced to fight, loot and become sex slaves to militants, the Philippine army claimed yesterday.

Jo-Ar Herrera, a military spokesman, said that according to recent escapees, hostages inside Marawi were being forced to convert to Islam, carry wounded fighters and marry terrorists from the Maute group who invaded the city last month.

“So they are being forced to be sex slaves, forced to destroy the dignity of these women,” he said. “This is what is happening inside, this is very evident... these are evil personalities.”

Most of Marawi’s 200,000 citizens have fled the Muslim-majority city since it was attacked on May 23 by the local Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, which both pledge loyalty to Isil.

Despite heavy aerial bombardment, which has destroyed much of the city centre, the militants have held off the army for five weeks, using snipers and rocket-propelled grenades.

Their combat capability, access to heavy weapons and the presence of foreign fighters has raised fears that the siege of the city is part of a campaign for Isil to gain a foothold in south-east Asia.

Hussein Datuharun, a city official, backed the claims of forced recruitment. “They [the militants] put checkpoints all over the city and then they recruit only men, saying ‘you join our group or we will kill you’,” he said.

Meanwhile, Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte reappeared in public yesterday after an absence of a week, his longest disappearance from the spotlight as president, amid concerns about his health that the government insists are baseless.

Mr Duterte gave a speech at the presidential palace of about 25 minutes, during which he railed at Islamist militants for their bloody occupation of Marawi, but made no mention of why he had been absent from the public eye.

Known for a busy schedule and lengthy speeches often several times a day, the 72-year-old Duterte’s low profile this month has fuelled rumours he is in declining health and that the government is trying to keep that under wraps.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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